Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Google Settles With 38 States Over Street View Privacy (Like We Said)

The attorneys general of 38 U.S. states today announced they had settled with Google over the company’s collection of private information over unsecured Wi-Fi networks by its Street View cars between 2008 and 2010.

The company is paying a $7 million fine split between the states, exactly as we had reported on Friday.

Google also has to conduct employee training program on protecting consumer information, and run a national advertising campaign on the topic.

Each state gets $192,000, making this another fine that will slide off Google’s back and not materially affect the people to whom it’s being paid. The participating states are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.

Today’s Google statement on the matter is more upfront about the company’s shortcomings than it has been over the years, which saw a series of denials and “no harm, no foul” statements, followed by revelations that the Wi-Fi payload system was purposefully built by an engineer working on the project and approved by superiors.

“We work hard to get privacy right at Google. But in this case we didn’t, which is why we quickly tightened up our systems to address the issue. The project leaders never wanted this data, and didn’t use it or even look at it. We’re pleased to have worked with Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen and the other state attorneys general to reach this agreement.”

The settlement with the states is only the latest conclusion in the case. According to the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which tracks the “Wi-Spy” matter around the world, at least 12 countries have investigated the issue, and at least nine of them have found Google guilty of violating their laws.

Surprise, surprise — privacy advocates are already upset with the settlement.

“Consumers are growing tired of seeing Google apologize time and time again, pay a small fine and make vague promises in settlements with one agency or another, only later to engage in the same behavior,” said American Consumer Institute president Steve Pociask in an emailed statement. “Until violations are treated more seriously, bad actors will continue to be indifferent toward the law and the protection of consumer privacy in general.”

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik